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Still on WASSCE: Between argumentative essays and debates

The Punch logo The Punch 24/08/2021 The Punch
Published 24 August 2021

The West African Senior Certificate School Examination is still on and we will again dedicate today’s lesson to another important aspect of it.

This has got to do with the differences between argumentative essays and debates and it will benefit not only the candidates but also other users of the language. After all, argument – as in trying to woo people to one’s side – is an integral part of life.

An argumentative essay and a debate are similar. The reason is that, in both, the writer is expected to argue in favour or against a proposition. That is why some of the principles involved in both are the same because the goal remains constant: to convince the marker to endorse your point of view, with cogent points painstakingly and inspiringly established. Yet, the candidate should not mix them up – the way they should not mix up formal and informal letters, speech and expository essays etc.

No greeting in argumentative essays

One of the common mistakes many candidates make in argumentative essays is that they begin their pieces with greetings. They would have forgotten that it is no more a live or physical presentation that a debate originally is.

It is in a debate that you need to greet the chairman, panel of judges etc. But in the argumentative essay, you just introduce your topic and move on to highlight and explain your points. The reason is that, in the argumentative essay, your reader or marker is your only audience.

No co-debater

In the argumentative essay, you do not have an opponent or a co-debater. So, in the process of your explanation, you do not refer to such. If it is a debate, you can do so, by for instance imagining what your opponent is likely to claim and trying to demolish it. In the argumentative, however, it remains an essay. A written and individual presentation without any physical audience or opposer.

No wish for endorsement in argumentative essays

Another important factor is that, in your conclusion of the argumentative essay, you do not hope that anyone has accepted your opinion or bought your idea. You remember, in a debate, you can conclude by saying, “With these points of mine, I hope I have been able to convince you that …” But if it is an argumentative essay, you do not need to do that.

What the above means is that when you are in the exam hall and you have got your question paper for the essay part, and you need to choose an argument-based question, be sure whether it is a debate or an argumentative essay. Once you are sure, you treat the question accordingly.

Some similarities

Yet, there are similarities to observe in the process. First, whether it is a debate or an argument, the essay must have a title which should be based on your decision for or against the motion. Second, both must have an introduction that should not be too long. In your intro, you must state your stand.

It is a must, otherwise you would have wasted your intro and the examiner will not allow you to waste his or her time. State clearly whether or not you are supporting the motion before you move to the second paragraph.

The third tip is that you should jot down your points before you begin to write. You should outline the points. This will give you rest of mind when you begin to write. It will also reassure you that the topic is good for you based on the number of points you are able to outline. Very importantly, too, it will make your writing tidy and cohesive.

When you eventually begin to develop the points, make it one point, one paragraph. Do not lump two points in one paragraph, and do not break one into two. Of course, you should not overstretch any of the points; neither should you indulge in repetition. State your point, explain it and give examples where relevant.

You can make use of rhetorical questions but this has to be smartly and sparingly done. A rhetorical question is one that does not require an answer because the response is already implied. It is a good device for argument and you can exploit it whether it is a debate or an argument.

Lastly, in your conclusion, identify one or two points in favour of the other side of the question. This shows that you really understand the issues involved and it proves that you appreciate that there is no policy or phenomenon without its advantages and otherwise – including your stance.

However, in the same conclusion, try to puncture the opponents’ points while restating your own stand. You can, indeed, do this by highlighting the points you had raised – as a summary or reminder.

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